Posted by: standing_baba | March 1, 2010

Book: The Gringo Trail

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FOREWORD: Though I may be one of only a handful of cyclists traversing the length of South America right now, there are literally thousands of foreign and South American backpackers tramping this continent as I write. “The Gringo Trail,” by a clueless yet adventurous Brit who stumbles upon the sometimes shocking Latin American reality during his journey, is a travel log of a few of the more colorful places on the South American circuit.

This book is a comical, insightful diary that skips from adventure to adventure, skimming just briefly the less exciting parts of travel, such as the actual getting from party to party, idyllic beach to idyllic beach via boring bus rides, or all the down time that one must creatively fill. Or not. Part of me wants to praise this author for his writing style which flows so easily, so honestly, for his later realization that the book would read as a simple adolescent coming-of-age road trip without the interspersed historical background info (which I plan to add to my blog) that educates the reader on South America’s pains, struggles, and human triumphs. On the other hand, it’s obvious to the well-traveled backpacker that this story is a common one—be it in Asia, Africa, or any developing country where its easy to highlight ‘backward’ cultural differences—, just perhaps with more climactic tragedy and drugs piled onto the story line.

So why do I recommend this book? Simple: in many respects I’m living the same plot. This book’s background information compliments my blog nicely, lets me off easy for not properly putting my travels into their greater historical context. It makes South American history palatable to those who may be more interested in adventure stories than facts and dates. Laughing, you’ll learn why things are they way they are on this continent of contrasts. Also, the author visits most every major destination I’ve visited, only he gives a much more thorough description—he wrote a book, not a blog after all.

“Animists are people who believe everything has a spirit, or soul. People, animals, plants, rocks, whatever. That’s the big difference from Christianity. Christianity basically sees mankind as a special case, superior to the rest of creation…To an animist, all of Nature is equal…The Spanish, you see, were more selective about what they admitted into the Kingdom of Heaven. Never mind rocks and animals, 16th century Europeans didn’t even credit all humans with souls. It was pretty commonly accepted, for instance, that blacks had no souls, and so-called ‘theologians’ debated whether or not the newly-discovered Indians possessed them.”

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“My friends got careers, steady partners, houses and families. Just as everyone I knew was getting married, I split up with my long-term girlfriend. Then she got married too. I felt alone. I still thought of myself as normal, and the world as mad—although to my consternation I gradually realised that my friends thought the opposite, on both accounts. Still I felt untroubled by personal demons. I knew the truth. The world—our Western world—was mad…I wanted a spark of some kind, a crusade, an ideal. All around me, I saw a society that had lost its sense of common purpose, of community. Where the future extended no further than next year’s balance sheet. An ‘unnatural’ society in the literal sense: where children grew up never having climbed a tree and unable to recognise the constellations. A materialistic society that had lost sight of the sheer joy of being alive, and replaced it with self-assembled wardrobe units from IKEA.”

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“The indians were ‘invisible.’ Not on the streets, of course, but when it came to TV or newspapers it was as if they didn’t exist…Even the names of their homelands hide their presence. Colombia: after Colombus, an Italian sailor who never set foot on Colombian soil. Bolivia: after Simon Bolivar, a Latino Venezuelan who spent about two weeks in Bolivia. Ecuador: after an imaginary line. The word Peru does refer to Indians, but not to people who actually came from Peru—it was mistakenly named after the Biru, who once lived on the Pacific coast of Colombia. The Amazon: named after Greek legend about a tribe of women warriors from northern Turkey or Bulgaria. Indians in general: named after a country on the other side of the planet. The Americas as a whole: named after another Italian, Amerigo Vespucci, an obscure member of a few expeditions to the North American mainland between 1499 and 1502. Latin America—named after the conquering minority, not the conquered majority.”

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“Silence. Stillness. Purity. People who live near great peaks invariably regard them as holy, as gods themselves or as the homes of gods. Vast forces humble us with their size and their timescale—the upward thrust of the Earth and the erosive power of wind and water. Life becomes simple. We become attuned to rhythms of elemental opposites—up and down, day and night, warmth and cold. Life or death. Being, or not-being.”

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“In today’s world there are two different, irreconcilable systems: the Indian system, which is collective, communal, human, loving, and which represents nature profoundly; and the European-derived system, which is exploitative, individualistic and egoistic, and which destroys nature.”

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“‘Imagine the world ‘mapped’ according to consciousness. Every life source registers a point, brighter or weaker depending on how complex it is. People, animals, insects. Even a plant is conscious, in a sense. It reacts to its environment, and that’s all consciousness is, at a basic level. The capacity to absorb and respond to stimuli. All around us—millions of little points of consciousness. There can hardly be a single spot on the planet more ‘conscious’ than here. So this,’ he concluded with a flourish, ‘is the centre of life on Earth.'”

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“A statistic in the paper, from a new UN Development Report. The assets of the world’s richest 358 people equals the income of the poorest 45% of the planet’s population: 2,300 million people.”


Responses

  1. I love this book, it is very funny and on the other hand gives a lot of background about the places that are being visited. Brilliant book!


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